EDITOR’S NOTE: During National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 1-7, 2015), it is important to start a dialogue, discuss the myths and truths about eating disorders and let people know that help is available. Like other mental illnesses, recovery from an eating disorder is possible!
The following story describes one young woman’s journey with anorexia nervosa and how, with the support of her family and professionals, she was able to regain control of her life.
This is Jennifer’s story…
Imagine trying to go about your everyday life, but being unable to perform simple, necessary tasks that ensure your survival.
Imagine trying to live your life with a dark, swarming cloud of guilt, disgust, hatred, and ignorance hanging over your head throughout your days like a heavy fog that refuses to lift, even if just for a moment.
Imagine if that cloud is constantly getting thicker and thicker, and becoming so unbearably heavy that it takes all of your energy just to keep your head up—even if you may not want to anymore.
Well, that’s what it’s like having an eating disorder. It was for me, anyway.
Eating disorders come in all different forms, with all different labels and characteristics. There is:
- binge eating disorder, and
- eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS)
However, despite the categories, everyone’s eating disorder is different. As I’ve heard many people say before, it is a “perfect storm” of many different things that can “trigger” an eating disorder. For me, though I can’t tell for certain, I believe it mainly had to do with my self-hatred, depression, guilt, perfectionism, and possibly a past of considerably unhealthy eating habits.
I am categorized as having anorexia nervosa.
This is when eating food becomes more of a fear than a privilege. I wouldn’t be able to specify when I “got” my eating disorder, because I feel I’ve always had it in me. I can only say that for the majority of my life I’ve hated myself and my physical appearance.
I was always a chubbier child, and I wasn’t able to ignore that, what with all of the “perfect” women I’d see in magazines and on television, and overhearing all the women—and many men—in my life talk about how they needed to lose weight and how they wanted to look like these people in the magazines.
Everywhere I would turn I would see a new fad, a new diet, a new way to change and alter and morph yourself into the impossible yet idealized person that society was selling.
“It was—in fact, it still is—a hard world to live in when your physical manifestation determines how you are perceived by your fellow homo sapiens.”
It was a very rare thing to see anyone take a compliment, let alone compliment themselves. I learned from the world that you must deny every good thing about yourself, and try in an inexhaustible effort to be the “perfect” specimen. On the outside at least. Personality and character were not to be commended. Not for me, anyway. It was—in fact, it still is—a hard world to live in when your physical manifestation determines how you are perceived by your fellow homo sapiens. I always used to think that I was somewhat of a decent person, so I didn’t really understand why nobody liked me. But, in a world so blinded by vision, I felt that nobody was willing to look past my faulty exterior.
So, I grew up with little to no friends and my self-hatred and guilt grew stronger – until around early 2013. Then my eating disorder became my best friend. We got up early every morning to exercise together, had a small breakfast alone—except for ‘her’ hanging over my shoulder, measuring everything to the smallest possible ounce, shouting profanities at me in an enraged fury if I put a little too much unsweetened almond milk in the bottom of the measuring cup—went to school, had a quarter cup of grapes for lunch (every day), went home, exercised again until supper, barely survived supper, then exercised again until I passed out in bed.
I was proud of my daily routine. My eating disorder was satisfied – for a while. I weighed myself every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I had a “goal weight” that I wanted to reach for as long as I could remember and one day I reached it.
I was ecstatic for a day or two. That ecstasy didn’t last long, so I sought it out again. “Imagine if I could go lower than my goal weight,” I would think. Then I did. Then, whenever I reached a goal, I would look for another.
This went on for a few months, until the gap between my thighs was wide (‘thunder thighs’), my legs were sticks—in look and in strength, my hip bones protruded (‘could lose a few more pounds’), my stomach was flat (‘fat’) and my back got bruises from my spine poking the backs of chairs (‘fat, fat, fat’).
On November 7, 2013, my sister and I were in a Veteran’s Day assembly at our school. Naturally, I wasn’t paying attention to the speaker, but to my legs, comparing their size to every other person who was in my peripheral vision. Then a teacher came to us and told us that our brother was there. I thought this was odd, but I didn’t question it. He said our mom was outside waiting for us.
I got excited—I thought there might have been some wonderful surprise that they were about to reveal. A surprise it was, though not quite so wonderful. As we walked out the doors, our brother told me to go with our mom, and my sister to go with him and our dad. I was confused, especially when I saw that my father was talking to my mother. He smiled at me with eyes I couldn’t understand, and walked toward his truck.
“My mom was always on my back about my health and needing to eat more. I resented her for it. Now I know that if it wasn’t for her motherly instincts, I may not be here today.”
When I got in the car with my mother, she was crying. She then proceeded to tell me that we were going to the hospital, as my doctor had concluded that my blood pressure and heart rate were abnormally low and she had to see me right away. Before this, my mom was always on my back about my health and needing to eat more. I resented her for it. Now I know that if it wasn’t for her motherly instincts, I may not be here today.
When we got to the hospital, they weighed me (I wasn’t allowed to see, of course) and checked my blood pressure and heart rate. The doctor told me that she was surprised I was still vertical. After this, I was put through a series of tests, seeing many different people, being hooked up to many different machines. I don’t know if you know the feeling of being absolutely horrified, but feeling the need to look as though you’re fine. It’s a tough thing and that’s how I felt then.
Anyway, following all of this, I was admitted into the hospital where I would stay for the next month (mind you, Christmas was coming up, and I didn’t want to be stuck in a hospital for Christmas). During my admission, I was “stuffed” with food—which was indescribably difficult, especially for the first few weeks—and information about eating disorders.
I was mad at everyone for a while.
I had tried so hard to lose all of this weight—to lose the dreadful, monstrous person that I was—and now they were forcing me back into the role I so desperately wanted to destroy. My attitude didn’t change for quite some time. I spent every night crying, begging the universe that if it had any mercy at all, it would take me away from all of the things I was going through and all of the thoughts racing around through my mind; stinging and re-stinging me like wasps in a hive.
Eventually though, I came around and, with that, I was discharged on December 2, 2013.
The time that followed my discharge was not all so pleasant. In fact, it felt hellish for lack of a better term. There were good times and bad times, but the bad times seemed to rule—to the point that I missed my hospital bed. But, with time, patience (oh so much patience), and determination (which was an on-and-off thing) I got a bit better.
I joined a program called the HOPE program, which helps people with eating disorders. At first, I was afraid of becoming a “Hope zombie” which is what I called the positive, pro-recovery people. But then I became comfortable, and even made a few friends.
I am on the “road to recovery.” Needless to say, it is an extraordinarily bumpy path with many obstacles and rough patches, but I would take it any day over the deep, deep ditch I was stuck in before.
I was amazed at how much I could relate to some of these people. I thought I was so alone. But now, with the help of the HOPE program and its magnificent staff, the beautiful people I have met there, and my unparalleled family (shout-out to my mom’s work for being so fantastic and amazing and supportive—I appreciate you all so much for your contribution to my recovery) – I am on the “road to recovery.”
Needless to say, it is an extraordinarily bumpy path with many obstacles and rough patches, but I would take it any day over the deep, deep ditch I was stuck in before.
I hope that this long jumble of words will help spread awareness about eating disorders and help break the stigma associated with them. Before I went through it myself, I had a completely different idea about them.
Now I know the reality, and I want people to be aware of it, too.
I hope that anyone dealing with anything that is difficult or troubling will find the courage and strength it takes to fight against the heavy darkness that covers their worlds and eventually be able to see the light again. ■
Anorexia Nervosa (AN) has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness – it is estimated that 10 percent of individuals with AN will die within 10 years of the onset of the disorder.
Eating disorders do not only affect young females at low weight. People of all ages and genders and with a variety of body shapes, weights, and sizes can have an eating disorder.
If you or a family member require help or information about eating disorders, please consult your family doctor for referral options or call Eastern Health’s HOPE program at (709) 777-2041.
This story was written by Jennifer Kirby, a client of Eastern Health’s HOPE program.